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The Cloppa Files #1
The Hound hears from Richard Dacre, the Dialogue Co-ordinator
on two seasons of Cloppa Castle...
Richard Dacre is a film writer, lecturer, historian, archivist, and owner of Flashbacks
Film Memorabilia Archive and Store in London's Soho. He also happens to be an
authority on Norman Wisdom and his life on stage, in films and on television and
has written a Wisdom biography 'Trouble In Store'. Richard's sister Sue is an
accomplished film and stage puppeteer and in the late seventies when she
commenced work on 'Cloppa Castle', Richard took on the unique role of Dialogue
Co-ordinator - choreographing the voices with the puppets on the series. Here he
reminisces about those days and outlines exactly what the job entailed...
'Well... I worked on Cloppa
Castle - I think the
company was called Transcontinental Films -
March to September 1978. As far as I remember,
this was the first two series, and I had nothing to
do with the third or fourth. The studio was a
converted church in Southwark Park Road (London).
I think when I joined the team they had already
started making the puppets and sets, but I might
be wrong, it's possible we all began at the same
time. I was shunted off to a separate room with
all the scripts and ¼ inch tapes containing the
professionally recorded dialogue.
My first job was to cut out all the guff. Not only the mistakes
unusable takes but also the gaps between dialogue so that everything
was up to speed. I was pretty well left to my own devices doing this, which,
as you can imagine, was quite a mammoth job with 24 episodes to work on.
This was a matter of physically cutting and splicing the tape as and where
necessary. Once an episode was completed, I handed the reel over to Mary
and John who then timed it and made script cuts to bring the episode to
My second job was to take these edited scripts and once more cut the
tapes to their instructions. The difference this time was that all these cuts
were preserved and labeled, so that they could be restored if necessary.
Also, I entered detailed timings on the scripts so that I could locate the
smallest snippet of dialogue in seconds - all very methodical work. By the
time I finished this, the scheduling was such that the puppets were completed
and the sets for the first batch of shoots were ready at the same time and we
were ready to roll the camera.
Obviously the 24 episodes were treated as a single entity - similar set ups
were shot sequentially. Not only did this save time, but also allowed the set
builders to continue working on later locations as the camera rolled. There was
no dedicated continuity person and the set designers and the puppeteers were
expected to take care of this themselves - very difficult - though Mary would
invariably pounce on anything that was amiss.
During shooting, I was sat to the right of the "stage" and my job was to send
the sound to the correct puppet. The puppets' mouth movements were triggered
by sound - thus I had to direct that sound to the correct character using levers.
Memory and looking at the photo (top) would suggest that a maximum of four
puppets could speak together in one take. So, the action would be as follows.
Mary would say "episode 12 scene 2". I would scramble for the right tape and
locate the scene (the tapes are in that cardboard box under my feet, the scripts
in the one next to the desk) using headphones. If necessary, the set would be
dressed and John (Read) would light. Then with puppeteers at the ready, she
would call action and off we went (she expected us to be ready when she was,
Quite high pressured at the beginning but one soon got used to it. Only once
was cut dialogue restored - that was pretty hairy. I had to locate the relevant
strip of tape, splice it into the reel and then play without holding up the
I only have pleasant memories of the whole experience. Great bunch of people
producing good work. I recall a pretty good wrap party enlivened by a crate
of champagne courtesy of the Lew Grade Organization...'
the 'Cloppa' series wrapped crew
© Mary Turner / John Read / F2000-2004